As CNBC reports that ByteDance could announce a deal to sell TikTok – or at least the US-facing business (along with Australia, New Zealand and Canada) – as soon as Tuesday, seemingly contradicting speculation that Beijing had a few days ago moved to try and delay the deal, White House trade advisor Pete Navarro returned to Fox Business Monday morning to warn that it’s “critical that this country not use apps that are made in China”.
Navarro warned that user data gleaned from apps like TikTok and WeChat can be used to “surveil, monitor and track” Americans.
“What I can say to the American people is that it’s critical that this country not use apps that are made in China or can take our data and move it to servers in China”.
“It will be used to steal your passwords, it will be used – in some cases – to blackmail or extort you,” he added.
“That’s the policy position underlying why we have gone after TikTok and WeChat, and there will be others because China…is basically going out around the world trying to acquire technology and influence.”
Officials in Beijing have continued to heap pressure on the Trump Administration after the president announced plans to target WeChat, the Tencent-owned app that is ubiquitous in China, where citizens use it for retail purchases, shopping, investing and myriad other tasks, in addition to texting.
American companies complained to Trump that any action against WeChat could jeopardize their access to the Chinese market. Officials in Beijing have warned that barring WeChat would cause Chinese consumers to “abandon” the iPhone, since it wouldn’t be able to run WeChat.
But while the administration’s China ‘doves’ have sought to focus the White House’s wrath on Huawei and TikTok, along with – to a lesser extent – WeChat, Navarro, who frequently contradicts comments made by his policy rivals within the West Wing – insisted that the White House would be targeting even more Chinese companies in the near future.
Navarro even suggested that TikTok’s widely praised content-feeding algorithm, credited with the hyper-addictive experience TikTok serves to users, was rooted in AI technology stolen by Chinese firms by the US, with most of the technology stolen from the biggest Silicon Valley giants.
“AI is just critical and a lot of the AI that China now has came from 2 American companies – Google and Microsoft – now we have the typical situation where China grabs content from us and now they’re restricting it,” Navarro said.
His comments on AI were in reference to new rules adopted by the CCP on Friday that impose new obstacles to a sale of TikTok, which experts say could delay any potential sale until after the election, which could force President Trump into a politically uncomfortable position.
Watch the full interview below:
Of course, while Navarro has been Trump’s most vocal China hawk for virtually the entirety of his first term, the administration’s push to get more countries to resist Chinese tech hasn’t always panned out – the campaign against Huawei is perhaps the best example of this.
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